The dark side of Davos

What do the Chairman of the Board of Nestlé, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank have in common? They’re all on the board of The World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Swiss non-profit foundation, which cites its mission as being “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.”

Its annual winter meeting in Davos is currently taking place, bringing together more than 2,500 top international business and political leaders, invited academics and journalists to discuss pressing global issues. In short – it’s a pretty influential set up.

So let’s take a closer look at the 24 WEF board, which is currently made up of

  • Gender: 18 men and 6 women
  • Employment: 12 corporate executives, 4 university academics, 4 financial insitutions, 1 Director of WEF, 1 Intergovernmental Organisation, 1 Non-governmental Organisation, 1 Queen
  • Geographical location: 10 Europeans (including Russia), 6 North Americans, 6 Asians, 1 Middle Eastern, 1 South American, 0 Africans, 0 Oceanians
  • Education: 22 of the 24 went to universities in the USA or EU

Many of the board members have been through the revolving doors in their careers; work for or sit on boards or advisory boards to some of the world’s most powerful corporations; have strong political and academic ties; belong to powerful lobbying, policy-making and advisory groups and a number have been implicated in accusations of corporate malfeasance during their career.

Susan George described the board as follows:

“The Davos class, despite its members’ nice manners and well-tailored clothes is predatory… They run our major institutions, including the media, know exactly what they want and are much more united and better organized than we are. But this dominant class has weaknesses too; one is that it has an ideology but virtually no ideas and no imagination.”

My source for this post is this amazing infographic which has more detailed information about the careers of the current board: http://davosclass.tni.org/. The infographic is a collaboration of the Transnational Institute and Occupy.com. They believe the World Economic Forum is fundamentally about increasing corporate profits and rewarding political elites rather than “improving the state of the world” and describe it as an undemocratic, unaccountable and illegitimate institution that, far from improving the world, has over decades reinforced the global crisis of inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction.

The Davos class are powerful, with many corporate interests and completely unrepresentative of global society – should they be responsible for such an influential forum discussing and impacting global issues?

Image: https://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/images/davos-facebook-share.png

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The refugee who took on the British government, or why ‘aid’ doesn’t work in an international system of oppression and inequality

“For British politicians, foreign aid to Africa has become a cherished emblem of our idealism and generosity.” But this is a powerful story we’ve been told.

The following article details yet another tale of foreign ‘aid’ and corrupt governance (on all sides) doing irreversible damage to the lives and livelihoods of the supposedly intended recipients.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/ethiopian-refugee-who-took-on-the-british-government

I’d strongly recommend you reading the full article, but it’s a long read, so I’ve pulled out a few of the paragraphs I found most interesting and poignant.

“Ethiopia is in a race to develop. In a similar fashion to Rwanda, the authoritarian government, lacking a democratic mandate, has staked its claims to legitimacy on its ability to deliver economic growth, and it is in a terrible hurry. During the past decade, Ethiopia has pursued a Chinese-style rush to develop its economy: locking up dissenters, crushing the opposition with a succession of 99% electoral victories, and building massive road, rail, agribusiness and hydropower schemes without pausing to conduct the necessary social and environmental impact assessments.

Nonetheless, despite still knocking along the bottom of every poverty index, Ethiopia has earned a reputation as a development success story, and donors, including the UK, are very keen to help, praising Ethiopia’s apparent strong progress towards the UN’s millennium development goals: increasing primary school enrolment and improving statistics on access to healthcare, water and so on. But donors are steadfastly silent on human rights abuses. Ethiopia receives more aid than any other African country – close to $3bn per year, or about half the national government budget. For the donors, Ethiopia is a priority, a linchpin of their development efforts, research and policy; especially so for the UK, where rising aid budgets have propelled Ethiopia into second place, behind Pakistan, as the recipient of the most British aid.”

“In Gambella, the government’s plans for delivering these things took the form of villagisation. The inhabitants of Opik’s village, though, were mistrustful of the government’s intentions. There had been no dialogue, no consultation. If the government had done little for them before, why would they suddenly start caring now? They suspected a plot to steal their land. They had heard of investors coming to test soil in certain areas.

Their suspicions were well founded. In Opik’s district, the allocation of land for agribusiness was well under way. Information was patchy, but a study by the Oakland Institute, a US-based thinktank, estimated that in Gambella, at that time, the government had leased or marketed 42% of the region to investors. Speaking to investors in India, government officials referred to the land on offer as “unused,” “under-utilised” or “completely uninhabited”.”

“The Anuak had to wait 10 months for a clue. In October 2012, after questions were asked in the British parliament, the findings of the DfiD visits were quietlydeposited in the House of Commons library. They described massive flaws in the villagisation programme, inadequate services and insufficient food, possibly requiring an emergency response.

The first report, which has since disappeared from the parliament website, noted that more than half of respondents had said they did not want to move. The report warned of a “potential humanitarian crisis” due to the people’s “limited livelihood options”. It also warned of “reputational risks” to donors’ aid programmes. This, then, was the heart of the matter.”

“For first Tony Blair and now David Cameron, the essentialising of Africa has been a useful political arena for the exercise of idealism untainted by politics. It was a deft move, following the Iraq war, to establish the Blair Commission for Africaand the Make Poverty History campaign. For Cameron, ring-fencing aid spending “was a key part of the compassionate Conservative makeover,” a senior former No 10 adviser told me.”

“A former chief economist of DfID, who did not want to be named, told me, “If you’re asking, ‘Am I prepared to tolerate a certain level of human rights abuses in exchange for progress on development?’, the answer is yes.” The question, then, is who decides what constitutes a “tolerable” level of repression in the absence of a democratic system?”

“A former head of DfID Ethiopia said to me, in relation to the relocation of the Omo peoples, “but if they’re being relocated anyway, aren’t we making their lives better?” She could not see that there was a problem with underwriting the transaction. It is almost impossible for those who make a living dispensing aid to imagine how easily it can become a tool of repression. She evinced a kind of helplessness, whereas a report by the Oakland Institute into alleged cover-ups of human rights abuses noted that DfID and USAid are, “wilful accomplices and supporters of a development strategy that will have irreversible devastating impacts on the environment and natural resources and will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people.””

“Of all the academic economists working on Ethiopia, I could not find one who was willing to speak on the record for this article. Much of the professional field of development studies is dependent on DfID research grants, with many academics serving on multimillion-pound study teams.

“If you challenge the consensus and make headlines, it is going to make your life harder,” said one economist at a London university, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Career progression is not just about where you publish, it is also about the amount of money you can raise and, in that regard, DfID is the biggest donor by miles,” he said. The two main centres of development studies research in the UK, the Overseas Development Institute in London and theInstitute of Development Studies at Sussex University, have depended heavily on DfID contracts over many years: “If that dependence is not a kind of institutional capture, then I am not sure what is,” said Warwick’s Prof David Anderson, a rare critic.”

Thoughts and feelings welcomed as always…

News: GJN asks – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?

If you’ve read the blog, you might be aware that I’m not exactly the greatest supporter of The Gates Foundation. Our team at The Rules criticised their ‘Narrative Project’, which invested much in pushing foreign aid as a solution to global poverty and inequality; and I have called them out on here for Melinda’s use of patriarchal language to talk about ‘development‘ and the organisation’s neoliberal agenda – I just don’t think they’re good news.

So it was really good to see UK organisation Global Justice Now releasing an important research project today: ‘Gated Development – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?’, which examines how it is pushing a corporate vision of development features.

The report demonstrates that the trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and argues that this is far from a “neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation. Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective.”

Global Justice Now suggests that, for the foundation in particular, there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty. They argue that while technology should have a role in addressing poverty and inequality, long term solutions require social and economic justice which “cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.”

One of the most poignant parts of the report for me is where it highlights the fact that despite the Gates Foundation’s aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices. Global Justice Now is concerned that the foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development, which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the foundation, are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage – this is something I certainly have witnessed explicitly speaking to organisations and people working within the development sector.

Specifically, the report calls on the OECD to undertake an independent international review and evaluation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the UK’s International Development Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into the relationship between DFID and the foundation and the impact and effectiveness of any joint activity in addressing poverty and inequality.

Read the full report here >> www.globaljustice.org.uk/gateddeveloped

It’s also been featured in the UK’s Independent newspaper, which you can read here.

Let me know what you think – is the Gates Foundation a force for good or an exercise in rampant neoliberalism…?

How to feel good about poverty…

It’s been a mad month as I’ve started working with www.therules.org, which, as you can imagine, is a dream come true.

We’ve just launched a campaign based on the idea that #PovertyIsCreated in advance world leaders coming together in New York later this month to formally sign the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs will be met with fanfare: celebrity endorsements, photo ops and a general air of celebration. These goals will set the international development agenda for the next 15 years and will affect the lives of millions of people, but what they are proposing is business as usual – grow the global economy and wealth will trickle down to the poorest. We know this won’t work, because between 1990 and 2010 global GDP increased by 217%, but the number of people living in hunger and poverty has actually increased.

The UN has lots of answers for reducing poverty, but it’s not asking the right questions. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 have grown economies, but left 60% of the world’s population living in poverty and contributed to the continued destruction of the planet.

How can we sustain growth when we’d need 4.1 earths for everyone to live like an American? And if growth works, why does all the money end up in the hands of the few? – Even now the 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of money as the poorest three billion and 18 times more money flows out of the global south every year than trickles into it.

We need to start asking the BIG QUESTIONS about poverty, because if we can expose its root causes we can get real answers about how to eradicate it and change the rules for a world that works for all.

With the UN and the SDGs under the media spotlight for the next month, we have a unique opportunity to tell the true story of poverty and how #PovertyIsCreated with videos, articles, tweets and other messages. This is the first step to steering the conversation towards solutions that can truly alter the system to stop creating poverty and change the rules for a world that works for all. We need to make sure our message reaches as far as possible.

Please watch and share our short video to find out the big questions we need answers on, and soon.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their neoliberal agenda

You might remember I had my suspicions about The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation​, when I went to listen to Melinda speak at a Family Planning conference in London last year. This week, they’ve gone and proven me right…

Last week, it was reported in the Guardian that they’re investing in fossil fuels. This, from an organisation that says that the threat of climate change is so serious that immediate action is needed.  According to Guardian analysis of the charity’s most recent tax filing in 2013, they held at least $1.4bn (£1bn) of investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies.

You can support the Guardian campaign to persuade them to move this money here.

Today, an email from Global Justice Now, and confirmed by reports from The Ecologist and openDemocracy, announces that the Foundation is holding a secret meeting in London with USAID – US Agency for International Development​, entitled “Multiple Pathways for Promoting the Commercial and Sustainable Production and Delivery of Early Generation Seed of Food Crops in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Or, as openDemocracy​ puts it “this is a meeting where corporations will discuss how to increase their control of the global seed sector”.

The report recommends that in countries where demand for patented seeds is weaker (i.e. where farmers are using their own seed saving networks), public-private partnerships should be developed so that private companies are protected from ‘investment risk’. It also recommends that that NGOs and aid donors should encourage governments to introduce intellectual property rights for seed breeders and help to persuade farmers to buy commercial, patented seeds rather than relying on their own traditional varieties.

Finally, in line with the broader neoliberal agenda of agribusiness companies across the world, the report suggests that governments should remove regulations (like export restrictions) so that the seed sector is opened up to the global market.

The neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatisation poses a serious threat to food sovereignty.

This neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatisation, currently promoted in almost every sphere of human activity – from food production to health and education – poses a serious threat to food sovereignty and the ability of food producers and consumers to define their own food systems and policies.

The two organisations organising the conference, BMGF and USAID, are two of the main driving forces behind the adoption of commercial, patented seeds among poor farmers in Africa. When seed markets are dominated by a handful of companies selling their patented seeds, farmers’ ability to save, exchange and sell their own seed varieties is threatened.

Source: openDemocracy, 23 March 2015

THIS IS SCARY STUFF…

NGOs losing the war against poverty and climate change, says Civicus head

Back in August, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah wrote an article for the Guardian, entitled: NGOs losing the war agains poverty and climate change, says Civicus head. The piece focussed on answering the question: “Charities are no longer drivers of social change; for many saving the world has become big business. How did we lose our way?”

In my opinion Sriskandarajah is spot on with his evaluation of civil society. The ‘commercialisation’ of charities is something that I have become increasingly aware of and it is a concern of mine.

In the ‘more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, I hope that charities cease to exist because they are no longer needed. But until that point it worries me that even ‘charity’ has been subjected to our modern culture of immediacy and instant gratification. If charity means ‘big business’ there is less of an incentive for those who become disillusioned and lose their way to put themselves out of a job, which is what the majority (not all) of people working for a charity should be trying to do. As Sriskandarajah notes: “And so we find ourselves reinforcing the social, economic and political systems we once set out to transform. We have become part of the problem, rather than the solution.”

I have reposted the article text here. The original article can be found here.

I’d be really interested to hear what you think about this. I’d like to write about this issue in more depth another time. But I found this piece thought-provoking and wise and thought it was important to share before I forget to.

In the last 40 years, we have witnessed an explosion of growth in civil society. There are now up to 4 million charities in India (pdf), 1.5 million in the US and 81,000 international NGOs and networks, 90% of them launched since 1975.

This should be music to my ears. The organisation I lead exists to strengthen civil society and citizen action around the world. So why am I worried? Because this exponential growth, and the institutionalisation and professionalisation that has accompanied it, has some serious downsides.

Sure, we’re winning battles here and there, but we’re losing the war; the war against poverty, inequality, exclusion and climate change. Too many of us who work in organised bits of civil society – including myself – have become removed from the forces that drive deep social change; from the causes that first inspired us. In devoting our energies to designing log-frames and reporting to donors, we’ve become mired in bureaucracy.

For better or worse, the biggest NGOs today look and act like multinational corporations. The largest of them employ thousands of workers around the world and their annual budgets reach hundreds of millions. They have corporate-style hierarchies and brands worth millions. Saving the world has become big business.

And big isn’t always bad; just as small isn’t necessarily beautiful. But it’s the effect of these trends on global citizen action that should unsettle us. We – civil society – have been co-opted into economic and institutional processes in which we are being outwitted and out-manoeuvred. Our conception of what is possible has narrowed dramatically. Since demonstrating bang for your buck has become all-important, we divide our work into neat projects, taking on only those endeavours that can produce easily quantifiable outcomes. Reliant on funding to service our own sizeable organisations, we avoid approaches or issues that might threaten our brand or upset our donors. We trade in incremental change.

And so we find ourselves reinforcing the social, economic and political systems we once set out to transform. We have become part of the problem, rather than the solution. Our corporatisation has steered us towards activism-lite, a version of our work rendered palatable to big business and capitalist states. Not only does this approach threaten no one in power, but it stifles grassroots activism with its weighty monoculturalism.

To bring about radical political change, we need to build from below. We need to help communities organise and drive change. We need more Arab Springs, but we need them to endure. Organised civil society must prioritise meeting the challenge of how we can build upon these sudden upsurges of social energy without suffocating them. When peaks of protest are connected to long-term action, temporary shifts in power have a far greater chance of becoming permanent gains in democracy, equality and freedom.

How can civil society reform and re-energise itself to meet this critical challenge? On 6 August we published an open letter, endorsed by some leading figures in global civil society, calling on all of those who have the privilege of working in this sphere – getting paid to do the things we believe in – to engage in this debate.

We believe we need to find better ways to put the voices and actions of people back at the heart of our work. Our primary accountability must be not to donors but to all those struggling for social justice. We must fight corporatism in our own ranks, recognise the power of informal networks, tap into the wisdom of the street and re-balance our resources. We must promote and protect civic spaces, and strive to build global people-to-people solidarity from the grassroots up. And this should not be about abandoning the civil society organisations we have created, but rather we must evolve these NGOs to be more open, agile and accountable to those they seek to serve.

All this will be not be easy to do – especially for those of us who have to keep an eye on donor deliverables and balancing the budget. But it will be worth it. Civil society needs to offer a new set of global organising principles, a new paradigm, an alternative model. No-one else is going to do it. And, if we can – if we can turn the tide of corporatisation and technocratic management that threatens to overwhelm us – we will rediscover our understanding of civil society as a deeply human construct, as a facilitator of empowering social relationships. And it is these relationships, history teaches us, that can truly change the world.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is secretary-general of Civicus, a global network of civil society organisations and activists. Follow @civicussg on Twitter

Video

The Rules….

Might just happen to be my new favourite thing!

I am in the process of finding out more about getting involved with some of their amazing campaigns, but check them out!

http://www.therules.org/en

“Our world has never been more connected or more prosperous than it is today. Yet right now, one in every three of us alive today does not have access to the most basic needs for a decent life – food, education, medical care, a safe environment.

The good news is that for the first time, ordinary citizens like you and I have the power and ability to change the rules that are creating these injustices. Technology and the shift of global power mean that we can now demand our say in decisions that have traditionally been made by elites behind closed doors. But the truth is, these things will only change if we demand it.

That’s why we invite you to join /The Rules. If we work together, the voices of the world’s majority are too loud to be silenced. Change the rules, and we change the world.”